a brief introduction
Clarinettist and bandleader Sandy Brown was born in Izatnagar, near Bareilly in India on 25th February 1929 where his father, John Brown was working as a Traffic Manager for the Indian Railways. His mother was Williamina Ward Brown (nee Henderson) andshe was not Indian as you will see written in some places. The family home was in Wishaw, Scotland, south-west of Glasgow, but on their return from India, Sandy, his parents and his brother Jimmie went to live at 4 Abercorn Crescent in Edinburgh.
From there, Sandy went to Edinburgh's Royal High School. He taught himself to play an Albert System clarinet and with friends from the school, including Stan Greig, Al Fairweather and Stu Eaton he formed his first band in 1943.
On leaving school, Sandy did National Service with the Royal Ordnance Corps and then returned to Edinburgh where he studied at Edinburgh College of Art for a Diploma in Architecture. In the evenings he played jazz with his re-formed band.
In October 1949, Sandy's band made its first (now rare) recordings that appeared with other recordings made in 1950 on the S&M (Swarbrick and Mossman) label. The recordings were followed by a major concert in 1952 at the Usher Hall in Edinburgh where the band played the first half of the concert and Big Bill Broonzy the second half. In 1953 they travelled to London to take part in a National Jazz Federation concert at London's Royal Festival Hall.
When the rest of the band returned to Edinburgh, Al Fairweather stayed in London and joined Cy Laurie's band, but soon afterwards Sandy was appointed as Acoustic Architect to the B.B.C. (British Broadcasting Corporation) and returned to London with his wife, Flo. He formed a new band with Al and other London musicians, and continued to record. They developed their music within the 'traditional' jazz format, but introduced new tunes of their own, some such as African Queen with themes from West African music.
Listen to African Queen:
In 1957 Sandy recoprded his milestone album McJazz, made up of original compositions by Sandy and Al Fairweather; in 1959 in the Melody Maker jazz journal it was named as one of the twelve greatest jazz recordings of all time.
Listen to Go Ghana from the McJazz album.
Other recordings followed - Al and Sandy, Doctor McJazz, and The Incredible McJazz, accompanied by radio broadcasts and tours, but by the mid-1960s jazz bands were experiencing difficulties in finding work as the music of Rock and Roll, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones grew in popularity.
In 1966, Al Fairweather left to join Acker Bilk's Jazz Band whilst Sandy continued to play with a variety of bands and make a number of broadcasts in the London area. His acoustic architectural company 'Sandy Brown Associates' was a successful concern and his working and clarinet playing life continued to be demanding.
That year (1966) Sandy recorded a live set in Nottingham with the Brian Lemon Trio issued as Splanky' and in 1969 he recorded with visiting American Blues Pianist, Sammy Price - the two takes of In The Evening are quite magnificent and essential listening. Between 1968 and 1971, Sandy guested at a number events in Eastern Europe. Here he is playing In The Evenin' with the Polish band The Old Timers in 1968:
We are lucky to have film footage of Sandy from 1968 - it is around 32 minutes of good quality film with equally good quality sound. The recording comes from a gig in Prague in the Czech Republic. The translation of the wording with the video says: ‘Scottish clarinettist Sandy Brown played in one of two alternatives to the cancelled concerts of the 5th Annual Jazz Festival in Prague's Lucerna in 1968. He was accompanied by the rhythmic group of Gustav Brom Orchestra’. Milos Kejr, who was there at the gig tells me that the members of the rhythm section were Josef Blaha (piano), Imre Mozi (bass) and Bill Moody (USA) (drums).
In 1971 Sandy recorded an LP backed by the Brian Lemon Trio and in 1974, he flew to New York to record with Dill Jones, Major Holley, Eddie Lock and ex-Count Basie band members including Earle Warren, Eddie Durham and Bill Dillard.
No-one realised that Sandy was very ill and a year later, on March 15th, 1975, he died at his home in London of a heart attack brought on by malignant hypertension. He was almost 46 years old. He died sitting in his armchair in front of the television with a glass of whisky and watching Scotland play England at rugby.